Originally created 09/22/99

Ethics panel votes for further investigation



MACON -- The state Ethics Commission voted unanimously Tuesday to formally hear a complaint against suspended Sen. Diana Harvey Johnson and to look further to see if other charges should be added.

Neither Ms. Johnson, a Savannah Democrat convicted in July of federal mail fraud, nor her attorney presented any evidence Tuesday to contradict a citizen complaint. The commission denied a written request from Ms. Johnson's attorney to postpone the hearing until after the criminal appeal and instead expects to hold the hearing early next year.

"There's quite a lot here," said commission Chairman Michael McRae.

Rome bookstore owner George Anderson filed the complaint based on documents presented by prosecutors in the criminal trial, but he was not at Tuesday's meeting.

"There are checks which are clearly campaign contributions, which the accountant for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation found were deposited -- not into a separate campaign account -- but into her company account," said Teddy Lee, the commission's executive director. "We believe that this unchallenged documentary evidence represents reason to believe there were violations of the Ethics in Government Act."

After reviewing financial statements prepared by the GBI, Mr. McRae suggested the complaint be expanded. He noted a deposit in the account of Ms. Johnson's business, CAA Consulting, for $6,000 from the federal Victory '94 fund, exceeding the state's contribution limit.

"I have a concern that someone forms a consulting group and then takes in a large fee from a political action committee behind their back as a `consultant' to get around the contribution limits," Ms. McRae said. "I think we would be very interested in knowing if there is a pattern of that."

Ms. Johnson was convicted of five counts of mail fraud for illegally channeling state tourism funds into the same business bank accounts that held the suspect campaign contributions. She will be sentenced Nov. 5, but has filed a motion for a new trial.

Gov. Roy Barnes suspended Ms. Johnson with pay when she was indicted, but she automatically lost her pay when she was convicted. She has said she will remain in office during her appeal even though she has no legislative powers.



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